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Climate Change: EU

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 28 April 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they next expect to hold discussions on climate change issues with the Czech presidency of the European Union.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have had regular engagement with the Czech presidency since January 2009. We continue to work with the presidency towards the June councils, where the EU position for Copenhagen will be further discussed.

My Lords, with thanks for that Answer, perhaps I may say that this presidency has in a way been easier than this president has been. The Czech Government’s recent loss of a majority and the president’s bizarre attitude to climate change reform and certain other related matters has caused anxiety in the UK and in the EU. Can the Minister confirm that the Swedes, with their enthusiasm for climate change reform, will nevertheless take things further on an accelerated basis and that their Government’s international policy priority is to ensure the chance of a united EU position for the eventual agreement in Copenhagen?

My Lords, there has been a great deal of discussion and debate within the EU over the past few months. The Czech president is of course entitled to his own view on climate change and there is no evidence that it has undermined the Czech leadership of the presidency as a whole. The noble Lord is right that there has been a vote of no confidence in the current Czech Government, who are continuing as a Government in resignation. I understand that it is hoped that a new Government of experts will take over within the next week and that they will conduct the Government until the elections which are expected in October.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the European Union is unable at the end of June to firm up its position on burden sharing between developed and developing countries and to make a genuinely generous offer to the developing countries, there is very little chance of getting a successful outcome at Copenhagen? If he does agree with that, does he think that the Czech presidency has hoisted that on board?

My Lords, the Czech presidency has certainly accepted as a key priority the need for continuing discussion towards the EU negotiating position for Copenhagen. Intensive discussion at the spring council meetings addressed in some detail the issues that the noble Lord has raised. On Copenhagen, it is essential to agree not only ambitious developed country targets but, as the noble Lord suggests, finance and technology flows to support developing country action on reducing carbon emissions.

My Lords, I do not know whether it is a good idea, but my understanding is that the proposed leader of the Czech Government of experts is to be a statistician. Of course this Government are a Government of all the talents.

My Lords, what progress has been made on the pan-European carbon capture and storage pilot projects, and what is the latest on the UK candidate sites? Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on finally adopting the Conservative Party policy on CCS.

My Lords, CCS is carbon capture and storage. Last Thursday, the Government announced in a Statement that we would take forward proposals for up to four demonstration at-scale projects for carbon capture and storage, which are essential because 40 per cent of global energy requirements are met through coal. We will not achieve the required GHG reductions unless we can develop carbon capture and storage effectively. This Government’s action in leading globally in this area will be critical. This Government have also played a very large part in securing agreement within the EU on providing some funding for up to 12 projects within the EU. This country’s position was pivotal to that agreement.

My Lords, one of the key issues for the developing countries will be adaptation as Bangladesh and other low-lying countries, particularly in the Pacific, are threatened by climate change. The Commission has just released a White Paper entitled Adapting to Climate Change: Towards a European Framework for Action. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be concerted action by Europe to help developing countries to adapt to climate change and to stop population displacement and the misery that follows?

Yes, my Lords. The work leading up to Copenhagen is towards agreeing very challenging and tough targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent a disastrous increase in global temperatures. However, it is not possible to prevent some increase, which is why the globe will have to adapt to some climate change. I very much agree with the noble Lord on the need for international action. However, it is also essential that this country takes appropriate adaptation action.

My Lords, is it not wrong to describe the views of the Czech president on the future of Europe and the Lisbon treaty as bizarre? Would not many of the suggestions he makes for the reform of the EU be supported by this Government and a majority of the British people?

My Lords, the Czech presidency’s theme of a Europe without barriers and an outward-going and dynamic EU is certainly one that the UK Government would share. If the word bizarre was used by a Member of your Lordships' House, I think it was directed not at the Czech president’s views on the EU and its future but at his somewhat sceptical view of climate change.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that scientists are saying that there are certain anomalies on the surface of the sun that may affect the climate in rather a different way from what is anticipated by the present situation? Is this being taken into consideration?

My Lords, I am reliably informed that any change in the sun’s cycle of activity has nothing to do with daylight saving time. My understanding is that the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity is currently at a minimum. Although its brightness is lower than during other recent minima, scientists expect its activity to increase again in the coming months. I understand that contrary to what has been reported, the influence of the sun’s natural variability on the climate is small compared with the impact of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

My Lords, last week in Washington I learnt that the Americans are now seeking licences for over 50 new nuclear power stations as their major response to global greenhouse gases. We seem to have stopped dithering here over nuclear and the Government have at last changed their mind and are getting on with things. Have we the support of the Czech presidency and, indeed, of the whole EU membership in carrying forward these matters with vigour after the years of delay?

My Lords, I am not aware of any inhibition by the EU presidency of the Government’s energy policy. As the noble Lord has suggested, we have given a green light to the development of new nuclear power stations, and EDF’s takeover of British Energy signals a great deal of investment. Other companies are also interested in investing. New nuclear is one of the necessary components to ensure energy supply and low-carbon emissions. However, that has to be laid alongside our renewable energy target of 15 per cent by 2020 and, as we heard, the impact of carbon capture and storage in coal energy production.